We've had a busy few months with Printcasting, launching some significant new features and engaging in a number of partnership discussions. I'll get into the features and partners later in this post, but what I'm most excited about right now is that people are using the service to bring previously all-digital content into the physical communities that they serve.
Andynoise: Citizen Sports Journalist
The best example so far is a sports enthusiast named Paul Anderson in Bakersfield, California who goes by the online moniker "Andynoise." He's now one of 400 publishers who have collectively created 1,500 editions since we launched in late March.
For several years now, this citizen journalist has been blogging about cross-country running in Bakersfield on Andynoise.com, a bare-bones site that focuses completely on local runners in Bakersfield. As just one example, he's taken and posted 61,000 pictures of high school runners in three years. It goes without saying that nobody in Bakersfield -- not even the local newspaper -- has done more to cover cross-country running events than him.
When we told Paul about Printcasting, he immediately saw its potential to get his content into a printable magazine form that he can take to cross country meets. We helped him with the printing costs for his first issue (an offer we made to all of our active publishers). As a result, a few weekends ago he handed out 500 copies of his Printcast at the Wolf Pack Invitational cross-country meet in Bakersfield that was attended by 700 athletes from 16 schools. We'll be printing up another issue for him for a second event, and have also sent a copy of his magazine to local sports shops and given them an offer for free advertising for one issue.
In addition to being a great case study for Printcasting, I think Andynoise says a lot about the future of journalism and the role that average people play in it every day. He's the perfect example of a journalistic entrepreneur, and he uses every tool available to him to find new ways to inform his audience. He publishes two other Printcasts in addition to Andynoise.com: one for the Bakersfield Distance Project and another for the Bakersfield Marathon Walkers. He's also active in Facebook, Twitter, Smugmug and any service that helps him serve his community of interest.
New Feature: The Edition Builder
The great thing about having active users is that they immediately tell us what they hate (really!), and we were caught off guard when the majority of users told us that they don't like the idea of automatically-generated editions.
As we probed into this more, we realized that they don't hate all automatic (people like Andynoise love how Printcasting pulls in content they've posted on blogs), but rather the lack of control over which stories appear in each spot.
In response, we've launched an entirely new path for creating a Printcast that we call the Edition Builder. Users can now choose every single article and placement, and also write or copy & paste stories from elsewhere (for example, from a Word document). But the real power is in the Story Finder, which lets you search through the 6,000 articles that have been imported into Printcasting. You can save them in a Story List (what we internally call "hunter-gatherer mode"), then drag and drop them into your publications.
This video shows how the Edition Builder works:
Initial reactions to the Edition Builder have been positive, but we're not stopping there. Over the next two months, we'll launch a completely new version of Printcasting that's tied more tightly to the node structure of Drupal 6.
Also, a new PDF generator we're experimenting with should allow much more flexibility and variability between templates, with headlines, images and story spots appearing in completely different places as you switch between them. Here's a screen shot of one of them, created by our Web designer Don Hajicek (who is also behind most of our site design and even some functionality):
We're also working to make Printcast subscriptions work more like an email newsletter tool that just happens to include a beautiful printable magazine.
Planning for More Partners
Finally, we continue to get inquiries from large companies and organizations that want to experiment with Printcasting -- and the nature of the inquiries in changing. Perhaps the most interesting development there is that not just one, but two membership organizations are now looking at Printcasting as a way to provide value-added news services to their members.
This was a pleasant surprise, but we should have seen this coming. Organizations of all types seem to be ramping up their content staffs (some even call them "newsrooms") just as newspapers are laying off reporters, and they always have a certain number of members who like the option of reading in print. In some cases, these organizations' members are telling them that they want them to do something to help save newspapers. Who would have predicted that?
Printcasting fits in because it's a "bridge" product that provides digitally aggregated content in a form that works great on a home printer. In the current economic recession, they can't afford as much paper and ink as they used to, so having a PDF version that members can print at home is appealing. And they all see the value of having instant handouts that they can take to real-world meetings. That isn't all that different from what Andynoise is doing with cross-country meets.
From a philosophical standpoint, this makes me wonder if membership organizations, non-profit news startups and the like will be the ones who carry the torch of the printed newspaper as "newspapers" reduce or eliminate printed copies altogether. But more likely, they will both end up in a happy middle-ground.
Oh, and one last thing about partnerships. Our objective has always been to spend the last 6 months of our Knight News Challenge grant period helping 5 other organizations make Printcasting work in their local communities. We have the ability to do that now thanks to some focused tests with MediaNews Group, but we won't delve into partnerships fully until around January.
If you or your organization are interested in being a partner, we'd like to hear from you. Please fill out this form. We'll contact you if we think there's a good fit.